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NCAA Softball Tournament bracket: First look at Arizona’s Tucson Regional opponents

Get to know New Mexico State, South Carolina, and Saint Francis (PA)

former-arizona-softball-all-american-susie-parra-part-2023-pac-12-hall-honor-class-title-ix Photo via @UA_Softball on Twitter

The Arizona Wildcats softball team begins NCAA Tournament play Friday when it will host the Tucson Regional at Hillenbrand Stadium.

Joining the Wildcats in the double-elimination event is New Mexico State, South Carolina, and Saint Francis (PA).

Here’s a brief look at the three visiting teams:

New Mexico State Aggies

Overall record: 29-23

WAC record: 11-4, 1st place

Runs scored per game: 6.08 (14th nationally)

Fielding percentage: .965 (92nd)

ERA: 4.34 (210th)

Arizona plays NMSU on Friday at 6:30 p.m. PT to kick off its postseason schedule. The Aggies won the WAC, making them an automatic qualifier for the postseason.

Arizona and NMSU played each other in a doubleheader in Las Cruces, N.M. this season in which the Wildcats won both games by a combined score of 19-1.

The Aggies boast a high-scoring offense led by sophomore first baseman Kelsey Horton, who leads NMSU in virtually every hitting category. She is hitting .424/.515/.816 this season with 16 homers and 59 RBIs.

NMSU has six other players with batting averages over .300, but its pitching has scuffled this season.

The Aggies’ three featured pitchers have ERAs above 4.00.

Still, NMSU has won seven of its last eight games.

South Carolina Gamecocks

Overall record: 32-23

SEC record: 8-15, 10th place

Runs scored per game: 4.53 (104th nationally)

Fielding percentage: .965 (77th)

ERA: 2.97 (89th)

The Gamecocks are a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament as they have appeared in the NCAA Tournament five years in a row and 20 times in total. South Carolina has eight wins over top-25 teams this season and finished the regular season ranked No. 24 in the nation.

Statistically, the Gamecocks are a rather weak-hitting team, batting just .280 as a squad, but part of that is because they faced tough SEC pitching all season (all 13 SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament).

Freshman second baseman Mackenzie Boesel leads the Gamecocks in nearly every offensive category, batting .337/.439/.554 with seven homers and 31 RBIs. First baseman Kaylea Snaer is South Carolina’s all-time walks leader (32 this season) and shortstop Krystan White leads the team in RBIs (38).

South Carolina’s pitching has been stellar this season, and it has posted an ERA just over 2.00 in its last 18 regular season games.

Right-hander Nickie Blue is the NCAA’s active career saves leader (21). The senior has a 2.46 ERA in a team-high 142.1 innings pitched this season.

Senior right-hander Jessica Elliott has a 2.82 ERA in 124.1 innings and leads the team in both strikeouts (102) and walks (87).

Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash

Overall record: 48-9

Northeast Conference record: 16-0, 1st place

Runs scored per game: 6.19 (13th nationally)

Fielding percentage: .968 (55th)

ERA: 1.93 (21st)

Champions of the Northeast Conference, Saint Francis (PA) is making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament and is riding a 21-game winning streak.

The Red Flash received seven votes in last week’s national poll and went undefeated in conference play, the first NEC team to ever do so.

The Red Flash have a prolific offense and a steady pitching staff. Leadoff hitter Cheyenne McKee is batting .392/.488/.615 with seven homers and 37 RBIs.

3-4-5 hitters Hayley Norton, Sierra McKee (Cheyenne’s twin sister), and Madison Kabell are all hitting over .300 this season and have driven in over 40 runs.

Second-place hitter Jordan Seneca is hitting .288 with a team-high 21 homers and 64 RBIs.

The Red Flash were the first team this season to hit 60 homers and steal 100 bases.

Saint Francis predominately uses three pitchers — all of whom are solid — and it uses them relatively equally.

Ethel Santei (18-1) has a 1.62 ERA in 134 innings, Ketarah DeVries (14-5) has a 2.02 ERA in 118 innings, and Abby Trahan (15-3) has a 2.12 ERA in 119 innings.

Opposing hitters are batting just .196 against the Red Flash this season.

Saint Francis played in Tucson last season, where it dropped a 6-4 game to Arizona. This season the Red Flash are 38-8 away from home.

They will face South Carolina on Friday at Hillenbrand Stadium to open up the Tucson Regional. First pitch is set for 4 p.m. PST.

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire